"We hold these Hooks to be self-evident ..."

"We hold these Hooks to be self-evident ..."


I came across this old Carole King song. Not my main musical style interest, but something I grew up with and I do appreciate it. So I noticed this little piano riff at the end of the verse lyric, and I wondered “Is that the hook?” I can only describe it as a fast E, G, A, A, A, G, E melody. It seems to jump out and cement the song, though only being a brief flourish in the instrumentation. So that piqued my curiosity as to what actually constitutes a hook. We can probably easily name them when we hear them, but what’t the definition or essential nature of such “ear candy”? My understanding is that Pop and Commercial songs have to have a hook, if they want to be successful.

Do you know of other examples, both obvious or cleverly concealed?


I’m not sure if I would consider that a hook but I guess if it’s a part that is repeated multiple times throughout the song and it “hooks” you, then it could be considered that. It’s a very subtle piece of the song, though. I tend to view the “and it’s too late baby, too late baby” to be the hook. I think some songs don’t really have an obvious instrumental hook.

The main riff in Smoke On The Water or Iron Man would be obvious hooks that are essential parts of the song. Imagine those 2 songs without those riffs. Now imagine Carole King’s song without that little piano hook. I think the Carole King song wouldn’t lose much without that little piano part but both Iron Man and Smoke On The Water would be vastly different without their main riff. Sometimes the instrumentation in a song is essential and sometimes it’s just supportive background music.


Yes, there may be multiple Hooks in a Pop song perhaps. The vocal in that song is certainly incredibly important. Still, in my mind after having this insight it just wouldn’t be the same song without that piano melody hook. The thing is, it comes in with the intro and frequently after the verse vocal, but then they leave it out later in the song for the most part. The solos and choruses tend to dominate there. It also seems that the hook is both piano and guitar, and I think I even heard just the guitar do that hook in the latter part of the song. It’s only part of the equation, but certainly seems to be a “recurring theme” musically.

Being a Hard Rock/Heavy Metal guy myself, I usually identify hooks with guitar riffs, as you pointed out. In Rock it’s usually essential to have the guitar riff, and many times it’s also the hook. That’s why hearing this singer/songwriter thing kind of threw me and made me think about it. It’s almost like that piano riff is part of a “call and response”, like it’s announcing the song in the intro, and replying to Carole at the end of the verse lines. So it almost becomes another ‘voice’ or character in the narrative IMO.


This immediately springs to mind:

By the way, I noticed that the first comment on this video is made by Ernie Winfrey, who engineered the session - and very interesting it is, too.

For me, the interest is not so much whether you can label something (hook, lick, riff, chorus, whatever), but whether the device is sufficiently unique to be recognised as intellectual property. The difference is important, because it’s the difference between using standard chords, sequences, transitions, etc. and actually creating something new.

FWIW in my opinion in both tracks the phrases count as a ‘hook’ or whatever your preferred label is: It’s not so much a question of what the songs would sound like without the hooks, it’s more about if you played the hook on its own, as a standalone melody, would it be instantly recognisable as the song from which it was lifted? In both cases the answer is yes (for me at least), so they must, then, be individual melodies in their own right.


I agree. There seems to be some similarities between the two also: the ‘hook’ or melody comes after a verse lyric, which gives a special effect like I mentioned earlier of “call and response”, almost like the melody is a responsive ‘voice’ replying to the singer. That seems to give some added weight. Also, both are very ‘catchy’ melodically and played relatively fast in time (tempo and time signature), which helps make them easily identifiable - and therefore - memorable.

I hadn’t thought of the intellectual property angle, but that’s a good one. But I certainly have the experience of hearing a riff or melody and on occasion thinking it’s exact or very similar to a particular riff in another song. At that point, it becomes perhaps a more subtle distinction of “how close is it” and was the usage intentional, subconscious, or completely coincidental.

I would venture that I might have picked up on an isolation or duplication of the “It’s Too Late” riff in a blind experiment, even though I may not have heard the song in many years. My ears recognize such things, and then my brain goes about reconstructing the memory of musical elements around it until I can identify a song name or lyric. The other song I don’t believe I had ever heard before, though I know the name Bobby Goldsboro and feel sure I heard some of his other songs way back when.


Yes, agreed. Another way of looking at it is the melody resolving and validating the vocal line immediately before it.